Film review: ‘MARY POPPINS RETURNS’ by Nick Gardener from ‘Built For Speed’

More than half a century after the much-loved original Mary Poppins comes Mary Poppins Returns starring the luminous Emily Blunt in the title role. Set once again in London but about 20 years after the original film during the depression, Returns sees the Banks children now grown up and dealing with the difficult realities of adult life. For Michael (Ben Wishaw) this means the imminent foreclosure on his mortgage not long after his wife’s death. As he, his three children and his sister, Jane (Emily Mortimer) are about to be turfed out of their home by evil bank manager William ‘Weatherall’ Wilkins (Colin Firth) it’s a perfect time for Mary Poppins to re-enter their lives. Emerging once again from the sky in that classic and slightly odd splay-footed pose, she takes on the Nanny role introducing Michael’s three children to a world of magical fantasy and dancing cockneys.

The story, which largely involves Mary and Michael’s family battling the bank manager, is a standard ‘underdogs versus corporate meanie’ set-up and isn’t exactly riveting. Consequently, the film very much relies on music, effects and cast performances and in these respects, results are mixed but generally successful.

This film is unashamedly in the thrall of the original Mary Poppins. Director Rob Marshall has tried to replicate the style of the 1964 film with vivid hand-drawn animation, bouncy (sometimes irritating) tunes and a cheery family-friendly tone. At first, it feels awkward seeing a contemporary film done in the style of a 60’s musical, particularly as characters launch into elaborate song and dance routines every five minutes. Some of the songs are a bit odd including a suggestive cockney music hall number which appears to reference Marshall’s Oscar winning Chicago. Some songs work better than others but it’s unlikely any will become as iconic as, for example, A Spoonful of Sugar.

Also, some of the nostalgia and musical theatre hijinks initially feel forced as if the filmmakers are trying to smash through any cynicism. Eventually, though, the film draws us into its quirky alternative reality which is largely due to Emily Blunt’s fine performance. While the script doesn’t exploit all the characters’ possibilities (she’s still a bit of a mystery), Blunt gives Mary a wonderful mix of wit, refinement and sassiness that will make her amusing for littlies, a strong female role model for young women and an alluring figure for adult males. Interestingly, Blunt’s portrayal of Mary Poppins isn’t as sweet as Julie Andrews’ instead staying closer to the more authoritative and snooty character in the novel.

Mary Poppins Returns doesn’t always work and for those who despise musicals, will be as unpalatable as any in the genre but for the intended family audience it’s a fun, good-natured and sprightly return to a beloved character.

Nick’s rating: ***

Genre: Musical/ comedy/ drama/ fantasy/ period piece.

Classification: G.

Director(s): Rob Marshall.

Release date: 1st Jan 2018.

Running time: 130 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.


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